Thursday, March 6th, 2008

How Do You Like Your Chances Now, Saku?

This Ottawa Citizen piece reminds us how Saku Koivu caused some controversy in the off-season by saying that the Habs weren't ready to contend; wonder how he's feeling now? The author says the Canadiens have all the right pieces to make a run - providing their untested goaltending holds up. If Price falters, he adds, Bob Gainey will get roasted (the French press already have the oven warmed up).

Habs Grit Their Teeth Over Officiating

Preparing to face the Coyotes tonight in Phoenix, the Canadiens had a day off before running through some drills with the coaches yesterday. Guy Carbonneau speaks to Pat Hickey here, discussing, among other things, his decision to go back to Carey Price in net after a bad game, and the team's frustration with the refereeing in San Jose the other night. Carey Price was literally bowled over by Patrick Marleau before one of San Jose's goals, and there were numerous phantom calls to go with a large number of missed calls. (All of which would be bearable if referees actually looked like this.)

It was indeed a badly-run game, but not unusually so, it must be said. The officiating in the NHL has been terrible since the beginning of the so-called "crackdown" on obstruction. It's not the focus on eliminating interference that's a problem; indeed, as most will admit, the automatic calls on hooking and holding have opened up the game, and the players have been much freer to strut their stuff, making it a more entertaining, more skill-based game. No, the "crackdown" has been a success in terms of eliminating the ugly stuff that used to clot the lanes, but it's had the unfortunate side effects of distracting officials from other fouls, while also making them less likely to call them.

Most of the refs in the NHL are still fairly old-school, and their philosophy is that they, the refs, "shouldn't affect the outcome" of the game. Now, obviously, a referee who avoids calling something, for whatever reason, is very clearly still "affecting" its outcome, but they don't see it that way. It is precisely that attitude that led to the constant hooking and holding that dominated the game from the mid-nineties until the recent past, and it is precisely that attitude that is to blame for the difficulty the NHL has had in trying to eliminate interference from the game.

Having been compelled - with the threat of demotion - to call even the slightest hint of a hook, the NHL refs have compensated by being more reluctant to call other types of penalties (checking from behind, double minors) if they think it's a borderline foul. Hence the growing irritation around the league from coaches, GMs, and players when referees blow calls.

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